Airbags have been cushioning drivers in accidents since the 1980’s and are now standard equipment on most new cars sold around the world. With cyclists and motorcyclists being much more vulnerable on the road than their car-enclosed cousins there have been a number of devices designed to bring the protection of an airbag to vehicles of the two-wheeled variety, including the Hit-Air jacket and Honda’s motorcycle airbag. The latest is an airbag collar aimed at cyclists called the Hövding that is worn around the neck and inflates to enclose the rider's head in the event of an accident.

The brainchild of industrial designers Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, the Hövding (Swedish for Chieftain) is a collar worn around the neck that allows cyclists to feel the wind in their hair and cycle around town without suffering that most dreaded of afflictions – helmet hair. The device contains a folded airbag that fully inflates with helium in about 0.1 seconds thanks to a built-in gas generator. The air bag is triggered by accelerometers and gyrometers, which detect the “abnormal movement” of the rider in an accident.

To ensure the air bag doesn’t inflate during the normal course of a ride, the designers say they studied the movement patterns of a large number of riders in everyday cycling situations over a number of years. This includes fatal accidents staged with crash test dummies and other accidents staged with male and female stunt riders – check out the video below for some vision of the testing.

Collecting the resultant data they say they have developed a unique, patented, mathematical method that is able to distinguish between normal cycling movements and abnormal movements that would occur in an accident. Although, they do point out that in the unlikely event that an object falls straight down on a rider’s head from above the air bag won’t inflate – so riders will still need to keep an eye out for falling masonry.

The airbag system is enclosed in a waterproof fabric shell, which is removable using zippers and will be available in a variety of styles and fabrics to allow riders to mix and match the device to match their Lycra outfits. The collar’s weight is distributed evenly across the shoulders and is heavier at the back so that the bulk of the device’s weight rests on the rider’s back as they ride. When triggered, the seam at the upper edge of the collar bursts and the air bag inflates to envelop the head like a hood.

An on/off button is located on the collar’s zipper puller and the front of the collar features a logo-shaped LED that indicates whether the Hövding is on or off and the battery charge level. The device is charged via a micro USB port and a beep will also start sounding when the battery has about one hour of life left, increasing in frequency until the device is recharged. The micro USB port also allows the Hövding to be connected to a PC to update the software and customize on/off sounds.

Embedded in the collar there is also a “black box” that will save 10 seconds of data from a cyclist’s motion in and just before an accident. The developers ask anyone who has been unfortunate enough to be an accident while wearing the device to send them this data so they can use it to refine the device’s software. Anyone doing so will receive a discount on a new Hövding.

The Hövding was launched last week and can be preordered from the developer’s website at the special launch price of 2498 Swedish Krona (approx. US$380). When it hits stores in northern spring this year it will be priced at 2998 Swedish Krona (approx. US$455).

Via Wired